The Sonoita Elgin Fire District Board (SEFD) held a public meeting on April 19, focusing on the 2021-2022 budget. A draft budget was approved on April 26, which has been posted on their website for public review and comment for 30 days. 

The Board will then consider public input, tweak the draft if necessary, and convene a board meeting to adopt the final budget. During each of the last three board meetings, Board members have stated they will not raise the tax rate. Even with the same tax rate, SEFD will most likely accrue additional revenue because property assessments and valuations have increased for many residents in the fire district. 

According to the draft budget, the total projected income and expenditures for the next fiscal year is $1,497,590. This amount exceeds last year’s budget by $4,330, or less than 0.3%. Approximately $954,000 will be generated from SCC district taxpayers, $128,643 from Pima County district taxpayers, $270,000 from ambulance revenue and the rest from other sources. 

The Board members and SEFD staff worked together to bring more clarity to the budget line-item descriptors and reached agreement to add a new line for “future” or long-term capital improvements to include ambulances, fire trucks, compressors, and more. 

There will also be a short-term capital outlay for the current year purchases. The Board concurred with the proposal presented by acting Chief Buonaccorsi to raise the hourly wage for firefighters and captains by 7% and lower the hourly wage and possibly reduce the work hours of the administrative assistant, a position now vacant due to the recent resignation of Katie Goodwin. These changes will impact ten employees and increase payroll by under $20,000. Currently, five firefighters are paid at $12.15 per hour. 

During the meeting, the board also authorized Buonaccorsi to commit up to $65,000 for a replacement ambulance. He was able to locate a lightly used 2017 diesel ambulance with mileage around 10,000 for $60,000 and is arranging the purchase and delivery. 

The latest investigation stemming from an allegation made by one or more SEFD members remains in process. No information was available from the Board Attorney, Donna Aversa, who has contacted the SCC Attorney’s office on the issue of overpayments to the former chief. The Board continues to collect additional information for the insurance claim recently filed to recoup some of the overpayments and related expenses. 

The IGA with Palominas is still a work in progress and may now include short-term support for admin services. The Board will also soon begin reviewing applications for the current board vacancy. They continue to collect and review all SEFD vendor and personal service contracts and agreements. 

The SEFD PSPRS (retirement and benefits) Board met on April 21. The Board concurred that the service credits listed by former Chief Joseph DeWolf in his retirement application filed in early February make him eligible for normal retirement. 

The Board also voted to require the deduction of unauthorized compensation, and associated contributions contained in a spreadsheet that was presented. This will require a recalculation by PSPRS staff, of the “high three” years associated with DeWolf’s service so the monthly benefit amount he receives complies with the State Statute. The amounts to be modified include $39,650 of unauthorized compensation, $3,033 of PSRPS employee contributions paid by the district, and $5,758 of PSRPS employer contributions. 

The application was forwarded to the State PSPRS office for a final determination. If the state concurs, the issue of SEFD recovering the excess contributions will need to be reviewed.